Lawyers and Literature
James R. Elkins

Exercise 1-4 | What You Bring With You    

We don't come to any reading, in this case the reading of lawyer stories, with a fully open-mind. Robert Scholes makes the point this way:

What we know from experience of love and lust, charity and hate, pleasure and pain, we bring to bear upon the fictional events—inevitably, because we seek to make every text our own. And what we find in fiction leaks out to color our phenomenal world, to help us assign meaning, value, and importance to the individual events and situations of our lives. [Robert Scholes, Semiotics and Interpretation 32 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982)]

Scholes notes that "[w]hen we become aware of ourselves, we are already thoroughly developed as textual creatures. What we are and what we may become are already shaped by powerful cultural texts." [Robert Scholes, Protocols of Reading 27 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989)]

Some of this baggage we bring with us to lawyer stories can be accessed and talked about. Some of what we carry with us is composed of stored-away parts of the self that are not easy to access and in some instances will be painful to confront. Some of what we bring to literature in our reading is so ephemeral and elusive that we don't have a ready language to articulate who we are as readers and what we do when we read.

You most certainly have, I would think, certain impressions and images and thoughts about yourself as a reader. Henriette Anne Klauser says of writers—as we might say of readers—that they have tapes playing in their head that define who they are when they write. [Henriette Anne Klauser, Writing on Both Sides of the Brain 8 (San Francisco: Harper &Row/Perennial Library, 1986)]. A reader develops, over years of education and reading, strategies for reading, strategies that are most often on display when we are called upon to read something new, something different, or something perplexing. Our strategies for reading can provide a motive for reading, as well as accessible protocols for how to read, how to carry out the work of interpretation and evaluation that inevitably takes place. Our strategies for reading make a direct and dramatic part in the way we experience what we read and how we experience ourselves as readers.

Can you describe, in some way or another, the baggage you bring with you as a reader to the reading you will do in Lawyers and Literature?

Can you describe the "tapes," the "scripts" that played in your head when you first confronted the judicial opinions you were reading in those first few weeks of law school?

Select one of the stories you are assigned to read in Lawyers and Literature and see if you can chart the tapes/scripts that play as you read the story.

Being the kind of person you are, or imagine yourself to be—the two are not always synonymous and not always congruent—what questions and concerns do you bring to your reading you will do in Lawyers and Literature?

What kind of argument would you make to advance the claim that you are a good reader? Is it possible that with all your success as a student, that you know yourself to be a weak reader?

Does the following account of the good reader resonate at all with the way you think of yourself as a reader?

In general, good readers enter the reading process with certain assumptions: that what they read will be connected into a coherent whole, that it will contain "layers of meaning," that the ideas being read are connected to other ideas they have previously encountered and are relevant to them personally. Before they begin, good readers inspect what they are to read, noting such aspects as the title, author, and chapters; then they place this reading into a category. As they read, they ask questions, note interesting features of the text, and draw on their experience as a reader. Additionally, they attend to author/reader relationships, monitor their reading processes, evaluate the significance of what they are reading, rethink past decisions, and hypothesize alternative interpretations. These processes used by good readers imply that much 'reading' time is spent in reflection . . . ." [Commentary by Sally Rings, at one time available on the Maricopa Community College, Center for Learning and Instruction website]


Note: This exercise was inspired by Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990). On the use of Tim O'Brien's text as a preface for an account of law students' views of themselves as writers, and what they bring to legal writing, see James R. Elkins, Baggage Our Students Carry as Writers.


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